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Monastic music ministry

It was one of the biggest concert happenings in Perham's history--secular, sacred or otherwise--but it started as humbly as a coffeehouse concert.

John Michael Talbot sat quietly down on a simple stool Sept. 4, with his Monkish, dark brown robes draping around both him and his sandal-clad feet.

A capacity crowd of more than 600 packed into St. Henry's Church Sept. 4 to experience the music of an internationally known Christian performer.

Among Catholics, Talbot is is one of the single-most familiar performers--with global distribution of his recordings. He is founder and president of the Catholic Association of Musicians.

His eyes contemplatively closed for much of the two-hour Perham concert, Talbot gently caressed his guitar--which sounds as if an extension of himself. His songs seamlessly melded from one into another, incorporating scripture, prayer and meditation. Lighting was subtle and soft, occasionally illuminating the crucifix behind him.

As founder and general minister of the Brothers and Sisters of Charity at Little Portion Hermitage near Eureka Springs, Arkansas, Talbot leads a monastic life with celibates, singles, and families.

Talbot enthusiasts, who came to Perham from throughout central Minnesota and eastern North Dakota, know what to expect at one of his concerts-- raucous, hand-clapping, gospel music it isn't. His guitar and vocal material has more in common musically with the so-called "New Age" trend than with the upbeat contemporary Christian music of today.

"My music is slow," said Talbot of his meditative, almost hypnotic style, adding with a chuckle, "which is too bad, because I had all these dance moves worked up!"

Though deeply spiritual, Talbot spoke congenially with the audience--with a few passages of mild, conversational humor.

Early in the concert, Talbot sang a familiar theme "Lord, make me an instrument of your peace." He explained that he performed the song at Pres. George W. Bush's inaugural prayer breakfast.

"But he (Bush) didn't show up," said Talbot, adding with a skeptical eyebrow that it was too bad "... Because maybe it would have helped."

The monastery at the Arkansas community of faith burned to the ground in April--destroying 30 years of work. The present tour is raising money to rebuild the structure out of rock and masonry. Even the sound system was destroyed in the blaze, which is why Talbot is touring with rented equipment.

There is an interesting trend, as Americans search for spiritual connection. Monasterys are attracting lay people who wish to affiliate with traditional religious communities, as well as those like the Brothers and Sisters of Charity in Arkansas--which is the only one of its kind in the U.S. which has been granted canonical status by the Catholic Church. Talbot's community has more than 500 "domestic members" worldwide, as well as a growing stream of visitors who have found a spiritual respite there.

Talbot invited concert attendees to join the community-- especially when the monastery is rebuilt.

With the bells of St. Henry's tower softly chiming the 9 p.m. hour, Talbot closed with "Come Home Little Children."